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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Actor and musician William Gary Busey was born on June 29, 1944, in Goose Creek (now Baytown), Texas, to Delmar and Virginia Arnett Busey. Gary Busey is of American Indian descent through his father's mother from Lewis Ketchum, of Craig County, Oklahoma. Delmar Busey and his family lived in Goose Creek and Marshall, Texas, before relocating to Oklahoma City in 1952 and Tulsa in 1954. In Tulsa he attended public schools graduating from Nathan Hale High School in 1962. He was in the speech club and also played football, earning a scholarship. He played for colleges in Kansas but injured his knee and transferred to the theater program at Oklahoma State University (OSU).

Busey began his performing career in both music and acting in the 1960s. He appeared as a character named Teddy Jack Eddy in Gailard Sartain's Tulsa KTUL television show, The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting. A successful musician during college, he played drums in The Rubber Band, a group created by his fraternity brothers. Busey later played drums on Leon and Mary Russell's 1976 album LP, Wedding Album. He also played with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. 

Musical career aside, at OSU Busey studied acting (though he did not graduate), and he has often credited his professor, Vivian Locke, with guiding him into a successful Hollywood career. His body of television and motion-picture work is extensive and includes more than 175 projects over a career that began in the late 1960s and continued into the 2000s. In 1978 he starred in The Buddy Holly Story and was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1984 he portrayed legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in The Bear, and in 1986 he starred in Eye of the Tiger. A major accident in 1988 crushed his skull and nearly took his life, but he recovered and continued to work. His credits also include major parts in Lethal Weapon (1987), Bulletproof (1988), Predator 2 (1990), My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (1991), Point Break (1991), Under Siege (1992), The Firm (1993), and  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). He has also appeared in dozens of classic television series, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The High Chaparral, Kung Fu, Baretta, Law and Order, and Scrubs.

In 2018 he released a memoir, Buseyisms: Gary Busey's Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth [B.I.B.L.E.]. A resident of California, he has remained an actor.

Dianna Everett

Learn More

Samantha Homann, Alumni Spotlight, 9 Jan 2009, www.okstate.edu, accessed 2 July 2019.

"William Gary Busey," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Larry O'Dell, comp., Oklahoma @ The Movies (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Busey, William Gary,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=BU022.

Published October 28, 2019
Last updated January 23, 2020

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